The Hermitage Hours

I am sometimes asked which form of the Hours do I recite (that is, which Horologion do I use). I use the Coptic Horologion (the “Agpeya” or “Agbeya”) – essentially because, seeking to follow in the tradition of the early Desert Hermits, this seems to me to be the most appropriate, being one of the most ancient of the Horologions, and one which has “the flavour” of the Desert Fathers.
The term “Agpeya” comes from the Coptic word ‘ajp’ which means hour. Beginning in the 4th century, the “Agpeya” was recited by monks only; it was not until much later that it was adopted into the Church, and eventually utilized on a personal basis.
The development of the daily offices in the Coptic tradition appears to have occurred in several stages. The offices of the Monastery of St Macarius in Scetis appear to have developed as the basis for the current hours, following the Council of Chalcedon (451), and to have led to the distinctive characteristics of the Coptic hours. As Taft comments: ”Egyptian Christianity began in Alexandria and was Greek. By the third century, however, there were numerous converts among the Copts, and the Scriptures and liturgy were already in the native language. But it was not until the rise of monasticism that the Coptic Church solidified as a native counterbalance to the cosmopolitan, theologically sophisticated, hellenic church of Alexandria, whose speculative, spiritualizing intellectualism stood in marked contrast to the popular, traditionalistic piety of the South, a largely oral culture transmitted through sayings, proverbs, rituals, rather than through theological treatises. This monastic culture – concrete, popular, ascetic – created the liturgy and offices of the Coptic Church. It is a highly penitential, contemplative rite, long, solemn, even monotonous, with much less speculative poetry, symbolic splendour and sumptuous ceremonial than, for example, the Byzantine tradition.” (Robert Taft “The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West. The origins of the Divine Office and its meaning for today” Collegeville, MN., The Liturgical Press, 1986:251)
Agpeya 2
The version of the Agpeya I prefer is: “The Agpeya. The Coptic Book of Hours” Fr Matthias Farid Whaba (ed), St Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church, San Francisco CA., 2nd edition, 1999 – this version of the Coptic Horologion in English is unique in that the Psalms are translated from the ancient Coptic version of the Psalms (which was a translation from the Septuagint Greek into Coptic) found in “The Book of the Psalms of David the Prophet, in Coptic and Arabic” (Cairo, 1897). Unfortunately, the quality of paper, printing and binding is very poor.
The editor notes that the work reflects the same understanding and meaning of the Psalms and prayers, “as used by our Coptic fathers” and “bears the particular flavor of the Coptic language”.
An example of the translation may illustrate: Psalm 23:
Good shepherd
“The Lord is He who shepherds me; I shall need nothing.
In a place of green pasture; there He has made me dwell; by the water of rest.
He has tended me. He has restored my soul; He has guided me into the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.
Even if I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, these comfort me.
You have prepared a table before me in the presence of those who afflict me.
You have anointed my head with oil, and Your cup makes me drunk like power.
Your mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and my dwelling shall be in the house of the Lord unto length of days.”

For the Coptic Horologion, see further:
Archbishop Basilios “Canonical Hours, Book of” in Aziz Atiya (Ed) “The Coptic Encyclopedia” New York, Macmillan,1991: 446-449 – available on-line at: http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/cdm/ref/collection/cce/id/413
O.H.E Burmeister “The Canonical Hours of the Coptic Church” in “Orientalia Christiana periodica” 2 1936:78-100 O.H.E Burmeister “The Horologion of the Egyptian Church. Coptic and Arabic text from a medieval manuscript, translated and annotated” Cairo, Edizioni del Centro Francescano di Studi Orientali Christiani, 1973
Robert Taft “Praise in the Desert: The Coptic Monastic Offices Yesterday and Today” in “Worship” 56 1982:130-158
Taft hours
Robert Taft “The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West. The origins of the Divine Office and its meaning for today” Collegeville, MN., The Liturgical Press, 1986, which includes:
Robert Taft “The Egyptian Monastic Office in the Fourth Century” [pp. 57-73] and
Robert Taft “The Coptic Office” [pp. 249-259]

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